05 May 2016

Homily upon Ascension

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today, we meditate upon a single verse in our Gospel.  These words:  “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.”  

When you hear, “sat down” what do you think of?  Do you picture Jesus sitting up in heaven, twiddling his thumbs, and waiting patiently for His Father to give Him the signal that the time has come to return again in glory?  What is He up to as He sits at the right hand of the Father?

First thing we need to clear up is this right hand business.  The sacred writer is not giving you hints about heavenly geography, so that when you get to heaven you’ll know on which side of the Father to look to see the Lord Jesus.  Right hand is bigger than that!  

Recall the words of the Psalmist:  “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.  The right hand of the Lord is exalted.  The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”  Ps. 118:16

The right hand of the Lord in scripture is not a place, but a power!  It is almighty power.  And so to say that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God is to say that He has all power, that He rules and governs all things!  Listen to how Paul said it in Ephesians:  “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the age to come.  And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”  Eph 1:20-23

So, when we confess in the Creed that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father we confess that the human nature which He assumed from the womb of the Blessed Virgin, and in which He offered to God the sufficient ransom to release all people from the debt of sin and the power of death, that this human nature has now been exalted and raised above every height imaginable, given the exercise of all power in heaven and on earth.  The One who bears in His hands the scars of the nails now rules over all!

So when I complain about the way things go in my life, when I gripe about the troubles of the world or of the Church, I am actually complaining about the way the Crucified and Risen One sees fit to govern, aren’t I?  Puts a different perspective on life, doesn’t it?  Me pitting my puny wisdom and ideas against the omnipotence and wisdom of Christ.

In the early days of the Church, this was not forgotten.  Even as the persecutions raged and people died for the faith, they never forgot the One in charge.  There’s a writing called the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp that comes down to us from those earliest days of the Church.  It’s a fascinating little document, but where it really soars is at the end.  Listen:  “It was the second day of the first fortnight of Xanthicus, seven days before the calends of March, when our blessed Polycarp died his martyr’s death two hours after midday on the Greater Sabbath.  The official responsible for his arrest was Herod; the High Priest was Philip of Tralles; and the proconsul was Statius Quadratus – BUT THE RULING MONARCH WAS JESUS CHRIST, WHO REIGNS FOREVER AND EVER.  TO HIM BE ASCRIBED ALL GLORY, HONOR, MAJESTY, AND AN ETERNAL THRONE FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.”  (Martyrdom of Polycarp, par. 21)

What confidence and peace those early Christians had as they remembered and confessed who sits upon the throne of this universe!  It can give the same confidence and peace to us.

But there’s even more to being seated at the right hand of God.  Our Lord Jesus not only rules all things for the well-being of His holy Church!  He also constantly intercedes for us before the Father.  The writer to Hebrews put it this way:  “Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them!”  (Hebrews 7:25)  For you, He prays.  When you sin, He says to His Father, “Father, forgive.  Look not upon the sin, but upon these scars that testify that I have answered for all their sin.”  Thus He is our Mediator, the one who stands in the breach between us and God.  His being Mediator did not cease when the work of the cross was done.  He continues to be our Mediator by His unceasing intercession for us by which He saves us to the uttermost.

And yet there’s even more.  Since the “right hand of God” is not to be thought of as a place, but as a power, the Ascension of our Lord does not remove Him from us, but brings Him closer to us.  Oh, His visible presence is removed.  But He is not removed.  His promise stands forever:  “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matt 28  St. Leo the Great got the hang of it.  He preached to his parish in Rome:  “The visible presence of Christ has passed into His sacraments.”  When you come to the altar today, you not only receive the Body and Blood that were offered in your place on Calvary’s tree for the forgiveness of your sin!  You receive the Body and Blood of Him who sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all things.  Thus Paul could rejoice that “He has raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2)  The Sacrament lifts you that high!

How great then are the treasures contained in:  “And sat down at the right hand of God.”  Ruling every circumstance, and so peace displaces our complaining.  Interceding constantly for us, and joy drives out our anxieties.  Constantly with us in His sacraments, and so we are never alone, but always with Him who sits at the right hand of God.  Jesus, your Mediator.  Jesus, your King.  Jesus, your Risen, Ascended, and Glorified Lord.  To whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory and honor now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.   

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